John Connolly's commentary on his speech presented at State of State 2016
At the beginning of December, I received some phenomenal news - I was lucky enough to be chosen to speak at the 2016 State of State Conference which elevates issues at Penn State and provides a forum to discuss these concepts. When deciding on what to speak about, many different concepts came to me which ranged from the value of my college degree to how tradition and change play a role in our lives here at Penn State. However, because of my experience bringing the Performing Arts Council to life, I knew that my topic had to focus and relate to the concept of student culture and specifically what it looks like and how it can be changed.
I had ample time to write this speech, however as a professional procrastinator the concrete concepts didn't start forming until four weeks before the conference when I began to dig deep into what I've learned while trying to enable change to take place in the performing arts here at Penn State. And then it wasn't until four days before the conference that I was really confident about what I wanted to say. However, the time that it took to put together these ideas enabled me to really begin to understand what it means to change a community here at Penn State and what we've done by changing the performing arts as well.
The overall concept of the talk was that student culture here at Penn State can be likened to a fabric, where students make up the stitches when they engage with other students. From a very high vantage point, the entire student fabric looks something like this:
But to make change in the fabric you need to zoom in and analyze how students interact on a small level. So, for example, two students within No Refund Theatre (NRT). These two students could be two actors, two directors, or anyone who makes a connection in this organization. By engaging in their org, they enable the fabric of that club to be strong and (with good leadership) the organization can be changed in positive ways:
Now when you zoom out, you see the connections between two different organizations. Thespians and NRT are a great example because they share office space and this opportunity to interact enables actors to span both organizations. However, as I'm sure many in the arts know, creating these seams in the fabric where two orgs can interact so well is NOT common because it isn't easy. But when you look at the trade-offs (increased mission success, better social dynamics, increased impact at Penn State), the value of org to org interaction is almost immeasurable. But these connections are hard to create and even harder to maintain. That is why organizations like the Performing Arts Council have sprung up. To try and make it easy for groups to form these bonds and make their community greater.
Finally, when you zoom out once more, you can see that there is one more level of student interaction/engagement which spans two different and large pockets of Penn State culture. As intuition would suggest, these students ave the ability to affect the most change at Penn State. However, these students are the ones who face the greatest difficulty because they are trying to hold onto two very large and often incredibly fast moving groups. This then either requires strong leadership to take these positions or strong leadership needs to grow quickly to maintain these connections. There are also safeguards, like Student Leadership Roundtable, which is set up by the administration to prevent these students from slipping by enabling student leaders to engage with their peers.
But overall when we look at the big picture, these levels of engagement aren't perfect and this creates tears and holes in the fabric of the student culture. And in order to fix them, we need to:
1. critically analyze the fabric (because tears like to hide and it is our responsibility to point them out)
2. be constantly believing that positive change is possible
3. we need to find an organization that is doing positive things here at Penn State and join
4. get our peers to join in these organizations as well
If we can do these things, we can create a structure that will enable change to take place at Penn State and if we focus those efforts (as PAC has been doing) I believe we can make that happen in the Performing Arts Community as well.
A video of John's speech is HERE!